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Epistemology, Part 2

June 30, 2012

The majority of people are content with what they know. But something very important to who we are as human beings lies beneath what we know: it’s how we know what we know. Our epistemology is at the very foundation of our knowledge. It determines whether we have ‘certainty’ or doubt about what we know, or if we can even know anything at all! Most profess certainty in what they know. (If you don’t believe me, get into a debate with some family members!) Most are confident that what they know is really real and really knowable in its truest sense (as it really ‘is’). But is this warranted? Can we ever have certainty about anything? We may be confident in our minds that what we know is true but this is not the same thing as philosophical/theological certainty. In short, we can be fully convinced in our minds we know something for sure but be very wrong.

The search for certainty in knowledge has been the Holy Grail, so to speak, in the study of epistemology. Various approaches to knowledge have been assumed as the starting place (building blocks) of how we know and how we have certainty in our knowing. One of the most touted sources of knowledge and certainty the world and Christians often appeal to is reason.

“I only believe what is logical.” “That’s not a good reason to believe in God.” Heard these before? And here’s the crux of the issue regarding reason: we all assume reason is to be involved in what we believe and accept. That’s fine. The problem comes in making reason the ULTIMATE GROUND or ABSOLUTE STARTING POINT of how we know what we know. In short, there is a real danger in making reason the ultimate epistemological basis for our knowledge. Why is that? Should not all things we hold to be logical and reasonable? Isn’t belief in God logical? Or is it a leap of faith to believe in God, Jesus, the bible, the resurrection from the dead, etc?

This is a real issue for Christians and the world. The moment we accept reason as the ultimate starting point of how we know what we know we have placed ourselves on shaky ground. Is it because of what we believe as Christians is unreasonable? No, God forbid!! Reason can’t be the ultimate ground of how we know because it has some weaknesses.

Reason has several weaknesses most people don’t even think about. First, consider this: why should reason be given the position of being the ultimate basis for how we know what we know? Who says it should be this way? (Says who?) On what authority do they say this and KNOW this? Is it through reason people know that reason should be the basis of our epistemology? I hope you realize this is circular reasoning. In essence, when we or others accept reason as the epistemological basis for our knowledge we are saying: “I BELIEVE reason should be our epistemological basis because it is most reasonable.” Well, how do you ‘prove’ that without appealing to what you have already stated?! It’s a FAITH statement in reason as a starting point to have knowledge! Don’t miss that! People have faith, which they can’t prove!, in reason being reasonable as the basis for epistemology. Reason has no other appeal than to appeal to itself as to why it should be our basis for epistemology. That is circular reasoning and a huge weakness. Having reason as our epistemology amounts to a blind leap of faith in reason!

Second, reason tells you it shouldn’t be the epistemological basis. How so? Reason tells us that it knows that it does NOT KNOW all things. Consider, reason tells us it can’t know (logically understand) all things. It’s due to the time limitations and information processing capabilities that are inherently attached to reason. In short, reason can’t reason through everything (Hey, there’s a lot of stuff out there in this universe to know!).  And since reason can’t process through EVERYTHING, it therefore by nature is limited. Since it is limited it is therefore exhaustible and can be prone to mistakes, errors, etc due to lack of information, reasoning capabilities, etc.  And further, since it’s limited it can never, ever give CERTAINTY! It can show something to be ‘most likely, pretty sure, pretty confident, etc’ but never ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN. So if you make reason your epistemological starting point, you’ll never be able to know with certainty that if what you know is really known for what it really is. Why? Because there will always be a margin for error in reasoning because of the inherent limitations of reason.

We must put holes in the foundation of people seeking to establish reason as mankind’s epistemology or they will continue to put their saving hope in the power of man’s reason (cf. Genesis 3:5). Helping them think through the issues above will begin to help point them to look for a new epistemological basis. One which allows us to not only know but know with certainty! Hear God speak about the world’s idolatry with reason: 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is THE ONE WHO CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS”; 20 and again, “THE LORD KNOWS THE REASONINGS of the wise, THAT THEY ARE USELESS.” (1 Cor 3:19-20)

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